News Avoidance - A threat to democracy

By Misch Pautsch

Keeping pace with the 24-hours news cycle often ends up being mentally and emotionally draining. As a result, more and more people check out. They become News Avoiders. For others, keeping up with the news cycle never was an option. To understand this phenomenon, we spoke to news avoidance-expert Dominika Betakova.

Lëtzebuerger Journal: How do you define news avoidance, and how prevalent is it? Have there been notable changes over time?

Dominika Betakova: What we know from research is that news avoidance is a multi-faceted phenomenon. Firstly, there is intentional news avoidance, that is a type of avoidance that is a person’s conscious decision, for instance, turning off the TV when the news is on, or unfollowing friends who share news online. The second form of news avoidance is what some researchers refer to as news non-consumption, or low news consumption. This could be a result of a conscious decision, or a result of some preferences like habits, lack of time or structural reasons. We also know other dimensions of news avoidance – for instance situational or temporary news avoidance. However, these two are the ones most commonly focused on in current research.

A survey we conducted in Austria in summer 2021, which will be published by Mass Communication & Society in January 2024, has shown that approximately 15 percent of Austrians can be categorised as high intentional news avoiders. A similar number, 16 percent of Austrians, consume too little news. Interestingly, these do not seem to be the same groups of people.

This might not seem high, however, we are speaking of people who are at the ends of the spectrum. When we look at how many people indicated that they at least sometimes avoid the news, we end up at around 70 percent. This signals a general dissatisfaction with some aspects of the news coverage.

Worldwide numbers differ very much based on what is measured. An annually published Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute shows that across 46 investigated countries, 36 percent of asked respondents in 2023 intentionally avoid the news sometimes or often, which is 7 percentage points up from 2017. According to the report in 2022, we see the highest numbers in Brazil (54 %) and the lowest in Japan (14 %).

What motivates this behaviour? Is it an active decision?

That depends on what kind of news avoidance we talk about. When we look at the results from the Digital News Report 2022 about intentional news avoidance, most people across 46 countries who said they sometimes or often avoid news say it is because there is too much politics and Covid-19, that news has negative effect on their mood, that there is just too much news in general. Others state that the news is not trustworthy, biased or that engaging with news leads to arguments with others. Finally, some feel there is nothing people can do with the information coming from news, leaving them feeling helpless.

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